Galactic Star Cruiser Review
The fledgling flights of Disney’s new Star Wars Galactic Star Cruiser Hotel have happened and the media embargo has been lifted. Early guests mostly made of members of the press and social media influencers were the first to experience the two-night, very expensive, immersive adventure.
It is important to note that these early birds were guests of the Walt Disney company. It’s one thing to enjoy a 5000 dollar stay as a guest and quite another to shell out that kind of cash yourself before you experience something. It is also important to report that some only had a four hour peek into the experience. A few did, however, get to experience the full multi-day adventure.
And now it’s important to report that these early voyagers came back to earth with mostly rave reviews. The photos and videos they shared showed a much more engaging and entertaining environment than Disney itself seemed capable of presenting in their own promotional materials. Some of which were downright cringe-worthy. And of course the internet ate up with these cheesy images like a bloody porkbelcy tossed into a school of hungry sharks. The social media hatred was scorching. And lots of us Disney and Star Wars fans were understandably losing our faith in Disney pulling off this very ambitious endeavor effectively.
Walt Disney himself always wanted to Disney parks to offer immersive lands so guests could dip their toes into their favorite shoot-em-up western movie or lose themselves in a treasured fairy tale. They pushed the idea with amazing experiences like Pandora at Animal Kingdom and later with Batuu at Disneyland and Hollywood Studios. But still mostly we were only asked to feel like we were in these places. But not necessarily a living part of these worlds. Letting guests participate in the worlds and the stories themselves… that’s a giant leap not just for Disney, but for theme park entertainment everywhere.
Some early qualifying observations: If someone is thinking this two-night “cruise” could be experienced without participation, I think this could be a massive waste of money for them. This is for the Star Wars super fans who have always wanted to live …not just watch… a Star Wars adventure. This is NOT a replacement for lodging at one of Disney’s or surrounding resort hotels. What this really meant to be is a two night, three day “ride”. An themed adventure discussed as a hotel-cruise ship. If you are coming for a relaxing cruise amongst the stars where you can dine on exotic space cuisine and be pampered by alien masseuses, waiters, and cabin butlers. Maybe sip space cocktails by the space pool… Let me wave my hand magically like Obiwan and say. “this is not the vacation you are looking for.”
That said, for the most part Galactic Star Cruiser does seem to be delivering what it has been promising; A fully immersive, multi-day, Star Wars adventure that you experience as a participant. Not just an observer. What value you get out of this experience greatly depends on how much you put into the experience yourself.
Is it worth the huge price tag?
There have been a few bloggers who did a cost break down and in a weird way, the Star Cruiser came out less than what other short of similar Disney experiences would cost them. Keep in mind that the Star Cruiser experience is mostly all inclusive. So it should not be compared to other area hotels that do not include meals and the endless entertainment/adventure and the one day park admission with included food and lightning lane access to Rise of the Resistance and Smugglers Run. If you try to itemize all that. A two nights stay at one of Disney’s Deluxe resorts. Meals at upscale Disney restaurants: potentially breakfast, lunch and dinner for two to three days. Add a days admission to Hollywood Studios. Lightning Lane passes for Rise of the Resistance and Smugglers run. Special admission to Olga’s Canteen. And then what price do you put on potentially around the clock adventuring onboard the Star Cruiser itself? It’s hard to put a value on this last bit because how you participate plays a big role in what you might take away from it. Thus, your mileage may vary.
This is not going to be a great experience for people who do not like sci-fi or do not care all the much about Star Wars. Not sure why I even need to say that but surely some Star Wars fans will try to drag indifferent guests into the experience with them, and honestly those folks might suffer a bit For example, I do not care much for Hello Kitty Stuff and the idea of being surrounded by a Hello Kitty experience for three straight days (if there is such a thing) sounds like mild torture to me. I assume non-Star Wars fans might feel the same way about the Star Cruiser.
People who would rather observe from a distance or might feel socially awkward interacting with people in space alien make up and playing roles in an over-arching play might also feel out of place on the good ship Halcyon.
Oddly enough there is a segment of Star Wars fans who have taken their fandom waaaay too far and think that anything past George Lucas’s original vision is blasphemy and whatever Disney has been doing with the IP is the work of heretics. Yeh, they are too far gone to be saved. Nothing will ever be good enough for them ever again and that’s a shame because Disney is doing a pretty damn good job keeping Star Wars alive for most of its fans.
The one thing these overly serious Star Wars fans seem to miss is that George Lucas baked in a campy silly fun aspect to Star Wars right from the start. It was never meant to be taken too seriously. If you’re the kind of fan that debates who should have been seated on the trade council when the embargo was enforced on Naboo. This is not for you. Honestly Star Wars itself is not for you. You should shift over to Star Trek or Dune that takes its world building a lot more seriously. Star Wars is a place where fighter jets fly through space with applied aerodynamics despite the fact that there is no air and space and no way for ships to maneuver that way. Star Wars is filled with things that sound like they were named by four year old toddlers. It has magic mixed with western style gun duels. It has ships as small as the Falcon concerned about running into moons and asteroids during hyperspace, but somehow the moon-sized Death Star jumps around the galaxy without the same concerns. Remember all the so-called fans who lost their minds when Rebel star bombers dropped racks of bombs on a giant First Order star destroyer but did not say a word when Tie Bombers did the same thing to try to flush the Millennium Falcon out from a cave on a giant asteroid. They went crazy when Leia used the force to push herself through space to the airlock of a ship even though it was established she is a Skywalker and strong with the force, but are just fine with Yoda bouncing around like a super ball fired out of a cannon to fight Count Dooku and later Palpetine in the Senate chambers. If you try too hard to apply logic to Star Wars, you are thinking about it way too much.
Galactic Star Cruiser is for those fans who are right in the middle. The fans who love visiting that Galaxy far far away because it’s been that dependable multi generational escape. It’s fun for the sake of being fun. The characters are almost comical in their depictions of good and evil. And even when things went differently than how we might have wanted them to go, we still got an amazing cinematic roller coaster ride. Galactic Star Cruiser is that experience brought to live. Bought to a live stage that wraps around and sweeps up guests. You choose your alliances. By making friends with fellow guests and the crew of the Halcyon you shape your own over-arching adventure. And each person you talk to, each door you open, each turn you make down a corridor might change your adventure’s eventual conclusion.
If you are the kind of person who cosplays to theme parks or fan conventions, or if you are the kind of person who loves to solve murder mystery parties or figure out escape room puzzles, Galactic Star Cruiser is quite literally built for you.
A Disney vacation is expensive however you choose to spend your money. If you choose to live out an around the clock Star Wars adventure, that opportunity now exists. Only you know if that is how you want to spend your hard earned money.
My Experience Staying off Disney property. Blog Post Jan 13, 2022
I would really prefer to be reporting about a great customer experience. And I will do so soon during some of the things I want to tell you all from my recent trip to Walt Disney World. But first I want to get something off my chest about the place I stayed during my trip.
Now those of you who know me know I religiously stay at Disney branded resorts when I go to visit the mouse. But this year, because of uncertainties around covid and travel, I made up my mind late to book my vacation and because I happened to choose the week of the Disney marathons all of the Disney properties that I could afford were booked up. I had to pick a hotel from outside the Disney bubble. This would be the first time I would stay off Disney property in literally decades.
I was still close by. I chose an official Disney Good Neighbor hotel located just across the street (literally) from Disney Springs. I chose the Wyndham Disney Springs.
Now when I booked my hotel I used an online hotel pricing service, like many of us do, so that I could compare prices and locations and amenities on one simple website. This used to be the smart thing to do, but what I am learning is that booking directly with airlines and hotels on their own websites or phone reservation lines can save you some headaches down the line.
Case in point; I booked a room at the Wyndham Disney Springs for a week to match up with the vacation plans of some dear friends of mine who had booked their vacation early and had rooms at Disney’s Art of Animation. Shortly after booking I went back to the website to add two more nights because… well… why not? I had been away from Disney for years due to the pandemic and I deserved a little extra magic on this return visit. The website did not let me change my booking. I had to call their customer service line. These people said I would have to call Wyndham directly to book the extra nights for the same room. When I called Wyndham they told me nope. I had to deal with the website that booked the room initially to alter it. So I called the website customer service number back and they told me they could not do anything for me at that hotel because in the ten minutes I had been talking to Wyndham to extend my stay, the hotel booked up completely and all they could do is offer me a room at a nearby hotel.
Ok, whatever. So they booked me two extra nights at the Wyndham Garden hotel at Lake Buena Vista. When I went to check how close this hotel was from the other Wyndham I was surprised to see that they both had the same street address. One was 1850 and one was 1850B. Thats pretty damn close.
So I called Wyndham up, as these were obviously sister hotels, and they connected me with the front desk of the Wyndham Disney Springs. I explained that I had a split booking between two Wyndham hotels that were clearly associated with each other because they shared an address. The front desk agent told me there was nothing he could do because these were two different properties run separately. I asked the obvious question; “So Wyndham does not talk to Wyndham?” He said any changes I might make would need to be done through the website through which I booked but at the moment there was nothing that could be done.
Fine. Let’s just leave this be. In my head, I reasoned that all I would have to do is check out of one hotel, roll my bags across the driveway or sidewalk or whatever separated the two hotels and check into the second hotel for the last two nights of my trip. Not a big deal.
So my travel day arrived. I flew down to Orlando just in time to experience the second day of operation for Mears Connect airport shuttle service. Now keep in mind Mears was the company that had always provided the services underneath the Disney Magical Express branding. They remained in the same base of operation in the Orlando Airport and provided basically the same shuttle service except now they served a few more hotels outside the Disney brand. Though not much had really changed, the operation seemed oddly rudderless. People who had clearly been there during all the years of Magical Express now seemed a little dumbfounded what roles they played to make nearly the same operation work under a different label. For example, my bus went to two different hotels. They dropped one family at the Poly and then headed towards Disney Springs. The driver kept asking if I knew the address of my hotel to help him find it.
Together thanks to my iPhone maps program, we found my hotel and he pulled up the ramp to drop me off.
My first impression of the Wyndham at Disney Springs was very favorable. The lobby was quite warm and pleasant. Shops and a little cafe off to the left and a bar and lounge area off to the right. The hosts who checked me in were a bit cold. The two people ahead of me were both dealing with room keys that had deactivated sometime during the day and were understandably annoyed. The host produced new room keys as if it was quite common. I would soon learn this was indeed the case. They got me checked into my room and set with room key cards in a few minutes. There was no welcoming feeling I have come accustomed to with Disney hotels. Here the check in process was something akin to paying for goods at a Walmart. No one there seemed all that happy to be there.
I wheeled my bag around the corner to the elevators. It took me multiple times to figure out that you had to use a room key card to activate the buttons in the elevator. For a good five minutes I was beginning to think none of the elevators worked. But finally another guest came along and showed me the slot the card had to go in to make the elevators work.
My room was in the twelve floor of the hotel. It was nice enough upon entering but I was immediately put off by how the door did not quite fit the door frame. You had to pull the door hard to make the locks line up and latch.
The room was plain and business-like. Something I might expect from a Days Inn or some other budget chain. The television had cable but only a handful of channels worked. The bathroom was clean but the facing for both the shower pipe and the tap were just loosely hanging in place barely covering the piping behind it. I’m not a plumber but this is the kind of thing usually sealed in place by a few cents work to silicon calk.
Nothing feels better after a long day of traveling than a nice hot shower. I twisted the shower tap. Its one of those single valve thingies that you have to turn and twist to find just the right spot where cold water becomes warm and warm water becomes hot. I twisted it. Cold. I twisted it more. Cold. I twisted it as far as it would go. Cold. There was no hot water. So instead of a hot shower I scrubbed off with a cold wash rag and got changed to meet friends over at Epcot.
Which brings me to the free shuttle bus services. Outside the Disney bubble the non-Disney hotels rely on different charter bus companies. The Wyndham free system had you scan a QR code, go to a website, choose a shuttle service, enter a secret code, and you had a spot on the once an hour shuttle to the theme parks. I was told at the front desk that if you did not do all this and enter the secret code you would be charged $14 a ride added to your hotel bill. But in practice, the drivers of these buses only sometimes cared if you had a boarding pass and they never once checked on the return trips back from the theme parks. Not sure how the hotel would charge you for rides that were not being documented by the bus company itself.
I found it much more convenient to Lyft back to the hotel as the return trips from the shuttle buses were much harder to sync up.
Upon returning to my hotel that night, I noticed one of my hotel key cards stopped working (as it did not activate the elevator). I used my second key and made it up to me room successfully. I would have stopped by the front desk but they were backed up with people checking in before the marathon events. Instead I called the guest service line on my hotel phone and told them that television was not working and I had no hot water. They said they would send someone as soon as they were available to see about the hot water and they assured me that all the rooms only got a small selection of channels. They advised me not to use the Wyndham home screen that the television automatically turned on to, to not try the theme park information or the hotel information offered off that home screen because those did not work. Instead just use the channel up and down keys to get the few available channels.
The next morning I got up early to go to Magic Kingdom. Still no hot water. But by morning the batteries in the television remote had died and now there was no way to change the channels at all on the television. On the way out to the parks I stopped by the front desk. Overnight the second room key had died, so I needed to replace both room key cards and report that I still had no hot water and my television remote needed new batteries. They assured me they would have someone look into it.
When I got home that evening, my remote control did work better, but still no hot water. Desperate to clean off now after two days walking in Florida humidity, I tried to just leave the water running. Maybe it took time for hot water to make it to the 12th floor. And after running the water for twenty minutes into the tub, finally some warm water began to flow. I quickly disrobed and jumped in the shower to enjoy at least a few minutes of almost hot water.
Refreshed, I got ready for bed. Found something funny to watch on Comedy Central (the television basically got Comedy Central and three different versions of HBO). I started to fade off to sleep when there was a loud pop and the rooms heating/air conditioner came on. I had not noticed this the previous night because I must have been dog tired from traveling but now it was quite noticeable and annoying. Every ten minutes or so when the room needed to be cooled, POP! And then a loud whoosh of air for like ten minutes from the ceiling vents. I tried adjusting the thermostat but the pop came whether the unit was cooling or heating. Somehow I slept but the pop woke me at least once every hour throughout the night.
One of the perks of staying at one of Disney’s Good Neighbor Hotels is that you enjoy the perk of early entry just like the Disney branded resorts. Or at least that’s what is promised. In practice, I attempted early entry into Hollywood Studios. I explained that I was staying at the Wyndham at Disney Springs and it being a Good Neighbor hotel I should be allowed into the park with other Disney Resort guests. But what actually happened is I was told to wait off to the side and though I had shown the cast member my hotel key cards, they had me look up my hotel reservation confirmation information on my phone to prove I was currently staying at a Good Neighbor Resort. Wha? That sure did not feel like the same perk Disney Resort guests enjoy as per the advertising on both Disney’s website and Wyndham’s website. By the time I could find my reservation information the family I was traveling with was already entering Galaxy’s Edge at the other end of the park. Early access was basically used up proving I was really eligible for early access. Sigh…
Keep in mind, that aside from the robotic people they had manning the front desk, I found most of the employees I encountered at this hotel absolutely friendly and welcoming. The women who operated the little convenience store/cafe were hilarious and fun to talk to. The two different greeters I met were lovely. And the person I talked to at the theme park information desk and the guest service stand were great. But somehow people who seem to only want to do the bare minimum to keep their jobs had fallen into maintenance and front desk roles. If you think about it, everyone of the little complaints I made in the preceding paragraphs were just one more simple step away from being fixed but someone was just one step to lazy to do the job right the first time. Or make the little extra effort it would have taken to make things right.
The next morning I had to replace my room key cards again. I asked the front desk clerk if this was a regular thing or was I doing something wrong? He said it happened all the time. It helps to keep the key cards away from cell phones, magnets or credit cards, he told me. So keep the credit card shaped pocket sized room key cards away from anything in your pockets and credit cards? Seems like an oversight to create a room key card in the exact size and shape of a credit card and have it become non functional if you keep it safely with the rest of your credit cards. Right?
So I stashed one inconveniently in my camera bag and the other in the little pocket knife pocket in my jeans and hoped that would give them enough distance from literally everything in my pockets that could and would deactivate them.
Nearing the end of my week, upon returning from the theme parks, I noticed no one was waiting at the guest services desk while the front desk was backed up with people checking in. I walked up and asked the kind young woman the question that had been bothering me since I first booked the hotel a month or so prior. I explained due to the heightened demand in the area because of the marathons I had some trouble booking my entire stay at the Wyndham at Disney Springs so I had to split my stay with the Wyndham Garden nearby. What was the best way for me to check out and move my bags over to that hotel? The agent looked at me like I was stupid. She said, “You’re IN the Wyndham Garden Hotel right now.” It was the same hotel that goes by two different names. I rolled my eyes. I was told specifically by the hotel website and even the front desk people I had called that these were two different hotels. No. She assured me that they were both under the one roof and that the front desk should be able to just extend my stay in the room I am currently in. Something I wanted to do from the start. Awesome! She saw the crowd at the desk and assured me later that night when I got back from the parks someone from the front desk would help me just continue on in the same room I currently have. Easy-schmeasy.
So later that night I returned to the front desk and told them what their own guest service person had told me and they coldly said, “No, we cannot do that. The Garden rooms are at a different rate and besides the hotel is booked to capacity.” They instructed me to pack up and come down on Sunday morning, they would check me out of the old hotel room and check me into the new room in the garden. Ok. Whatever. Maybe the new room would have consistent hot running water.
Sunday morning came. I packed up all my belongings and rolled my bags down to the front desk to check out and check back in as I was told. This front desk guy looked me in the eye and actually said, “Why didn’t you just choose to stay in the room you had for the extra two nights?” I looked at him in disbelief and said, “You tell me. Thats what I wanted to do all along but everyone kept telling me where was no way to make it happen.” This guy actually told me I was lied to. He used those very words. Of course they could have kept me in the room I was already in, after all its all the same hotel.
He tried a bunch of things in the computer and it became apparent that he spoke too soon. Systematically he could not find a way to keep me booked in the room I had. I said, its ok. I am packed up anyway. Just put me in the new room and were fine. He worked some more and still was hitting some sort of dead end. He called a manager over who also struggled to make things work for me. They finally noticed I was getting a little fed up with the “yes you can no you can’t” service I was experiencing. They asked if I had plans to visit the theme parks. I did. So they said they would call me when my new room was ready and I could leave me bags with their bell services folks for safe keeping.
Fine. I dropped my luggage with bell services and booked a bus to Hollywood Studios. I did not feel great about leaving my belongings with people who were revealing themselves to be less and less capable of doing their jobs but what choice did I have?
When I got done with the Studios I Lyfted back to the hotel. They had called me I was all set, all I needed to do was stop by the front desk to get my new keys and retrieve my bags from bell services. Could they just have bell services put my bags in the new room? No, they wanted me to claim my bags and do that myself. So I am not sure what service bell services really provides other than giving me a tag to babysit my luggage while I was away for the day. Weird.
I got my new room keys and the desk clerk gave me very specific directions how to get to the garden rooms of the hotel. He very specifically pointed me past the set of elevators and to the left down the next hallway to a second set of elevators that provided access to the garden. This clerk was directionally challenged. I followed his directions to the letter and it led me to the wing of the garden specifically where my room was not. I had to take the elevator back to the lobby and reverse engineer his directions to find my room on the other side of the entire complex.
Calling these rooms the “garden” was a little like calling the front desk “helpful”. These rooms were more of a old fashioned Florida Motel. Rooms opened to the outside. The outer walkways were poorly laid cement filled with cracks. The tower rooms where I had stayed for the beginning of the week were nothing fancy, but by contrast these garden rooms felt almost like walking through a minimum security prison. Ugly grey green painted walls. Rooms that were uncomfortably easy to look into from the hallway. I finally found my room and opened the door… at least the key card worked… but it was now after dark and there was no light on in the room. There was no light switch where every hotel should have a light switch, near the front door… I had to use the flashlight on my iPhone to find a lamp to illuminate the room. It might have been better to have left the room in the dark. The walls were institutional white. There was a weird yellow cushion chair set opposite a small round table. Both almost small enough to be considered kids furniture. The room was narrow and once again the fixtures in the bathroom were oddly dangling in place revealing pipes going into the walls. The closet in the bathroom did not fit the gap it was built into. Instead there was a bizarre dark unfinished gap of about two feet of space above the closet that just trailed off into darkness.
The air conditioner came on and once again there was the loud pop. Like the other room the pop preceeded any change in the rooms cooling or heating during the night. And like the other room it jolted me awake repeatedly throughout the night.
There was no usable table or work station. I ordered a pizza for delivery and had to eat it standing with my nose just inches away from the television.
Down here in the garden I had three more channels of cable television and believe it or not, hot water in the shower.
There were not traditional curtains in the room. Instead there were pull down blinds. Akin to blinds you might find in an camper RV. The walls were very thin everywhere in this hotel but particularly here in the garden. Up in the tower there was the regular din of kids squealing in the hallway. Down here in the garden the people hanging out on the railing outside my room felt close enough to listen in on my telephone conversations. Or hear that I was watching Euphoria on HBO.
There was a noticeable gap on the bottom of the door. Big enough for bugs or snakes or lizards or whatever creeps around at night in Florida to freely enter my room. Ugh.
I think the thing that bothers me most about this whole experience is that this hotel… or hotels… should be an incredible cash cow. A little tweak here and there to bring it a little closer to what happens in Disney hotels every day just feet away would make this hotel a real gam. I mean you cannot beat the location. Its closer to Disney Springs than even Disney’s own hotels which makes it something people would seek out (like I did). To be honest its kind of a hassle to bus from some of the Disney resorts to Springs, and this hotel is literally a walking bridge away from it all. For travelers seeking a little more nightlife in their Disney vacation, this hotel would be perfect… except that its not perfect.
I know you get what you pay for and the Wyndham was considerably cheaper than the Disney choices if I could have picked Disney choices. But while this period where Disney is kind of alienating a lot of people by raising prices and removing services, this is a golden opportunity for the so-called Good Neighbor hotels to step up and win some loyal customers who are feeling a little undervalued by Disney right now. But it's not going to happen by striving for mediocrity. And that’s what’s happening at the Wyndham at Disney Springs.